“My effort has been to give the greatest importance to improving ties with our neighbours”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday India had been making efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan, but dialogue could not take place until the “terror machine” there was brought under control.
“We are willing to discuss all outstanding issues [with Pakistan] provided the terror machine [there] is brought under control,” he said addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here. Dr. Singh was asked when the dialogue, suspended since the Mumbai attacks, could resume.
“Our efforts have been to normalise relations with Pakistan,” he said, adding he had often said that “we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbours. We have no choice.”
South Asia had enormous capacity to grow at a much faster pace but this would depend on peace and tranquillity in the region.
“For the last six and half years that I have been the Prime Minister, my effort has been to give the greatest importance to improving relationship with our neighbours, that include South Asian countries, particularly Pakistan and Southeast Asia,” Dr. Singh said.
He said India's ‘Look East' Policy had been successful and referred to his recent visit to Japan and Malaysia, during which they agreed to work together to frame comprehensive economic partnership pacts.
Dr. Singh said India's relations with ASEAN countries had also improved enormously and New Delhi had become a founding member of the East Asia Summit.
Simultaneously, he said, India had improved relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait and countries in Central Asia.
Ties with P-5 states
At the same time, India's effort had been to improve relations with all P-5 countries (the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China), which was reflected by the fact that top leaders of these countries would visit New Delhi this year.
While British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama had already visited India, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would be visiting the country next month.
Mr. Obama's visit was a “great success,” Dr. Singh said. He said India today enjoyed such goodwill that everywhere he went there was “great admiration” for the country.
“People [around the world] marvel at the fact that here is a country of 1.2 billion people with all religions represented, committed to rule of law, human freedom and still has managed to produce a growth rate of 9 to 10 per cent. The world wants India to succeed.”
The Prime Minister indicated the possibility of inducting more young leaders in his Council of Ministers.
“I do share the thoughts that we must introduce [young leaders] ... we must reduce the average age of people in power. That we should bring more younger people into our system of governance,” Dr. Singh said replying to a question on Cabinet reshuffle. He, however, refused to say when the reshuffle would take place.
“Well I think I am not able to tell you what I am going to do by way of a Cabinet reshuffle. When that happens, I think you all will come to know about it,” he said.
Dr. Singh's comments assume significance in the backdrop of anticipation of a reshuffle.
While Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan had become Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Telecom Minister A. Raja had to resign following the controversy over the 2G spectrum allocation.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal had been given additional charge of the Ministries of Telecom and IT as also Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, portfolios which were held by Mr. Raja and Mr. Chavan.
Prior to this, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor had to go in April this year over the IPL controversy, taking the total number of vacancies to three.
Threat to ecology
The Prime Minister said the country's environment was facing a threat from “inadequate regulation” and pitched for a “new thinking” to prevent degradation of resources. “There is threat to our environment arising from inadequate regulation,” he said.
Dr. Singh stressed the need for addressing the new challenges arising in the form of climate change and urban development, causing loss to biodiversity. “We need new thinking to prevent the degradation of land and water resources which endanger the livelihood of millions of our people living on the edges of subsistence,” he said.
The remarks may be seen as a shot in the arm for Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who has been facing criticism from various Ministries as he implements his “green agenda.” — PTI